Freedom & Sufficient Reason

In commenting on my recent post Atheism is Not Strictly Conceivable, readers Vishmehr, Cincinnatus and Leo all pointed out that the Principle of Sufficient Reason [PSR] appears to rule out freedom for God, or for creatures, or for any sort of being. Leo provided a link to a short review of arguments that the Principle of Sufficient Reason entails necessitarianism.

It does not.

This is a good thing! If we were not free, then we would not be free to understand or intend anything. But if the PSR were not true, then everything would be unintelligible, and we could not understand or intend anything. Either way, as Vishmehr pointed out, we – and all other minds, including the Divine mind – would not actually exist. In order for minds actually to exist, the PSR must be true and minds must be free.

Fortunately, this is possible. Freedom and intelligibility are compatible.

To see why, one must first understand the arguments that the PSR entails universal necessity, so that either it is false or minds are not free. Two of the strongest arguments are very well and clearly stated in the document linked by Leo. The first:

Suppose God is significantly free regarding creation. Then God could have not created and the fact that God creates is contingent. If that is right, then the fact that God exists is not a sufficient reason (explanation) for the fact that God creates, since necessarily, if there are A worlds that are B worlds and A worlds that are not-B worlds, then A isn’t a sufficient reason for B. So if God freely creates then the bare fact that God exists isn’t a sufficient reason for a world of dependent beings.

But, you say, what about “God intends to create” as a sufficient explanation? Given that God is self-existent and omnipotent and all the rest, if God intends to create, then God creates (nothing can thwart God’s plans); so the fact that God intends to create gives us a sufficient explanation of God’s creating. Very good. For “God intends to create” does seem to give us a sufficient explanation for “God creates” since the former is sufficient for the latter. There is just one problem: if God is free, then the fact that God intends to create doesn’t seem to stop the regress because this fact, though sufficient for God’s creating, is not itself necessary; so it is itself in need of explanation. So if God is free, it looks as though there is no sufficient reason for the world of dependent beings. The answer to our question would seem to be ‘no.’

But it is *not* right that the fact that God creates is contingent on anything. The argument presupposes composition in the life of God: a time when he had not yet intended to create anything, *and then* an intention to create, *and then* an act of creation (and, presumably, many other periods and moments before and after). But under classical theism (which is the traditional teaching of the Church), the life of God is not like that. It is not a series of moments, but a single, simple, eternal moment. There is no “time” in eternity when God had not yet created, or intended to create. The moment of God’s creation is the same singular moment as that of his existence. Creation comes along in company with God’s act of existence, as a package deal (just as the three Persons of the Trinity arrive together and integrally with that same package).

Thus there are no A worlds that are not B worlds. There is in eternity no state of affairs in which God has not yet created, and might go one way with things or another. Nor therefore is there any possibility at all that God might have created differently than he did – or rather, does. This does not mean that God’s creation is necessary. It means that it happens the way it happens, and this fact rules out other ways it might have happened.

God’s freedom lies not in optionality, as it does with temporally conditioned creatures who must all decide what to do next. It lies in the fact that he is nowise conditioned by anything at all. On the contrary: he is the primordial condition of condition per se. He is not contingent upon anything. Nor therefore is his act. In particular, his creative act is not conditioned upon some previous act of his, such as deciding to create. There is in him no such thing as before or after. He is one pure act. There is no God who does not create these worlds he is creating.

So the details of the creation are not necessary; they are not baked into God’s essence (even though he knows about them eternally qua possibilia, and so too therefore do we). He is free to create as he wishes, and nothing can affect his decision. It does not depend on any prior state of affairs. So neither is his creative act contingent.

Then God’s creative act is neither necessary nor contingent. It is free.

The second argument:

Suppose we list every contingent fact. Suppose we now tie them all together with ‘and’s. In other words, suppose there are just two contingent facts, fact F and fact G. Then we could write down their corresponding propositions and put an ‘and’ between them so that we’d now have a conjunctive proposition ‘F and G.’ Suppose that we do that with not just two facts, but with all the contingent facts. Call the mammoth conjunction ‘C.’ Now if the PSR is true, then there is some sufficient explanation for C. This explanation must be either necessary or contingent. If it is contingent, then it is part of C. But no contingent proposition could be the explanation for a proposition of which it is a conjunct (because then it would be explaining its own existence and if it could do that it would be necessary and not contingent). On the other hand, if the explanation of C is itself necessary and if it is a sufficient explanation of C, then C will be necessary (since C will be a necessary consequence of a necessary proposition). So either C is unexplained or it is necessary. But the PSR tells us that it can’t be that C is unexplained so it must be necessary. So PSR entails that all facts are necessary. As a professor of mine in graduate school, Stephen Schiffer, would say, “Believe it if you can.”

But as we have just seen, God’s creative act is neither contingent nor necessary. It does not fall into C. Yet neither is it necessary. Nevertheless God himself is necessary, so that C can be sufficiently explained by its contingency upon his necessary existence.

Thus is it that freedom and the PSR are compatible.

What does this all tell us? It tells us that the modal relations of necessity and contingency are sub-eternal in their pertinence. They are ex post facto relations among entities. They are categories that arise only as between two completed entities that, as both complete, can then have causal relations of some sort. Incomplete entities still in the process of becoming can have causal influences, but until they are fully determinate, their character cannot be defined, nor therefore their sufficient reasons specified. What does not yet completely exist is not yet completely caused.

Remember though that in God there is no past. Sub specie aeternitatis, everything whatsoever is at once flowing into being.

Notice in conclusion that classical theism is classical – is, i.e., Traditional – for good reason: it can handle this sort of difficulty.

29 thoughts on “Freedom & Sufficient Reason

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  3. “Remember though that in God there is no past. Sub specie aeternitatis, everything whatsoever is at once flowing into being.”

    Failing to grasp this, modern people quote from Heraclitus only the adage that “all things flow.” The Logos, however, does not flow, for if it were to flow, nothing would be recognizable. While any given phenomenon changes, as a mountain through erosion becomes a mere hill or a plain, the pattern of phenomena persists – because the Logos informs that pattern.

    Not at all by the way, Kristor, but pointedly and gratefully – thank you for your work in rescuing several years of good work from looming oblivion.



    • Just so. The Tao *is* the Flow; it does not itself flow. This is why the Very Reverend Dr. Donne suggests that in Heaven there is “one equal music.” He connotes, not a monotone, but a constant music, which exhibits the same order, harmony, and beauty through all its variations. Thus also do the Buddhists characterize the ultimate reality as nirvana: literally, “no wind.” The Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, is movement itself; it is motion and the cause of all movement, but it does not move, in the sense that it goes nowhere, and does not change, and is simple.

      • Modern people have no witting contact with God, the Tao, the Logos, or the Forms. Endless mantra-like repetition of the inane anti-notion that everything is changing all the time has induced them to experience reality as though everything was transforming into something else perpetually without any continuity. I see this chaos of pure perception sans concepts in the confused efforts of my students to make sense of books and essays and arguments. Many if not most of them have trouble reiterating the events of a narrative (it might be Homer’s Odyssey) in sequence. Ask them to go beyond rehearsal of the sequence in its proper order of events – ask them, say, to explain the causality implied by those events – and only a few lucid souls will venture an answer. Causality is a trans-temporal concept. Students, wholly caught up in the rush of temporality, find it nearly impossible to rise to the level where the pattern becomes visible – and beyond it the patterning of all patterns. This is not just a cultural disorder – the result of the criminal enterprise that we call K-12. No. It is a profound lapse of consciousness. It is a species of dehumanization.

        PS. It occurred to me that my comment might seem off-topic, but I defend its relevance. People who can’t see causality to save their lives obviously can’t understand necessity. People who can’t understand necessity to save their lives obviously can’t understand their own freedom because freedom and necessity have an indissoluble, paradoxical relation to one another. People who believe themselves to have been liberated from necessity because they feel no constraint from any prohibition must be suffering from a particularly virulent and likely fatal delusion.

        Coming back to my students: Many, perhaps most, of them have difficulty rehearsing the events even of an entertainment film in their proper order. This is how far down the ladder of consciousness their (deliberately inculcated) failure to discern pattern has taken them. When requested to rehearse the details of a film (let’s say, The Adventures of Robin Hood) they cite randomly this scene and that but entirely without the order that the plot necessarily imposes. So we’re not simply addressing bad reading habits due to pedagogical fads that undermine literacy. We’re talking about a failure in the visual-aural domain, in respect of which my colleagues blandly assure me that students are colossally, richly savvy.

        PPS. I seem just now to have identified godlessness with illiteracy. It was an intuitive identification, but I stand by it.

      • This is a great insight. Literacy of a people might be the intellectual equipment that enables abstract thought, of the sort that we had always taken for granted as “human.” You can’t undertake an analysis of the structure of a phenomenon except by transcending it, abstracting and then in thought manipulating its components, arranging and rearranging them to see how they fit together. And you can’t perform that intellectual transcendence of raw experience if your mind is not trained to literacy. This does not mean that you can’t do it unless you are very good at reading and writing. It means that your *culture* must be very good at the sort of intellectual abstraction that furnishes the raw neurological basis of literacy. No one in your tribe needs to be able to read or write, so long as the shaman at least can undertake the mystical ascent, look down on the history and traditions and ancestors of the clan, and on the context thereof – floral, faunal, meteorological, celestial, divine – and then return to his fellows to give them a coherent report of what he has seen about their predicaments. Sitting round the fire and simply telling stories suffices to train the shaman’s deliberative and imaginative skill into a people. Books are an extension of this basic procedure.

        What we have now from the “video arts” is for our young people failing to inculcate this skill. As so many of its critics have remarked, watching TV is different from listening to a story, or a play – whether live or by way of reading – and *working* at *practicing* the art of imagination. And it *is* work, and to get good at it one *must practice.* It is not inborn. As now we discover. Men of our generation, Tom, take that skill for granted, as if it came along with being human. It does not. It seemed as if it did, for all of human history up until a generation or two ago, but only because everyone did that work and practiced that skill every day, from infancy forward.

        No longer.

        Go to a movie nowadays, or watch TV, and you will find that the culture of narrative that so deeply informed these media in their first decades has vanished almost completely, replaced with a chaotic, flickering jumble of disjointed, rapidly changing images, and relying on noise and shock and outrage to hold the attention. The same devolution is at work in popular music, which is intended for an audience in which almost no one has been trained to play, or to sing, or therefore to listen properly. You end up with a lot of horribly ugly sound and fury, signifying nothing.

        If you can’t transcend your immediate inputs and analyze them, so as to discover their inner order, then *there is no way that you can apprehend reality as ordered, or a fortiori as meaningful or significant.* All that remains then is an incoherent array of phenomena: raw, discoordinate sensations, each baying for our attention, among them the intense pulls and pushes of physiological desire, none of them anywise domesticated to a comprehensive moral structure under which they may be interpreted and evaluated

        It is possible for humans to live this way, but only as farm animals, under the supervisions of those few farmers who can see the deep order in things and give intelligent direction to their clueless wards. Such animals are biologically human, but lack what has distinguished humanity since the Paleolithic: a coherent, workable, compelling and morally consequential myth, under which they may understand and evaluate life, and live it intelligently. If you’ve got that, you have a shot at godliness.

        If not, not.

  4. Josh – my point and, I believe, Kristor’s too, is that those of us who grew up with the habit of literacy, and with a massively literate social context to help us out, mentally rehearsed The Adventures of Robin Hood the first time we saw it. We knew how to do that because we had learned how to remember what happened in Chapter Nine of Robinson Crusoe when we were reading Chapter Ten. So internalized are the habits of literacy for literate people that they forget the sophistication of their accomplishments the way a fish forgets that it swims in the sea. Additionally, The Adventures of Robin Hood is an extraordinarily well-written film (the diction of the speeches is chosen with exceptional care) and the story, about the injustice of Prince John’s tax-’em-to-death police state, is a paradigm of moral causality. Part of the story is Lady Marion’s conversion. We see that conversion in its moment although it does not explicate itself in the dialogue. Nevertheless, any intellectually competent twelve-year-old should be able to spot it and understand it.

    A little thought-experiment: I ask you to watch The Adventures of Robin Hood and then I ask you (precisely) to rehearse its episodes. I am fairly certain that you would give me a causal synopsis – first A happens, then B, and then C, with B and C being related to A. My students will almost invariably begin (and end) with a reference to the final sword-fight – the last impressive thing to happen. When I feel sufficient spiritual fortitude to lead them through the Meno exercise of posing carefully constructed leading questions, I can sometimes get them to put the episodic syntax together in an orderly way, but it is something of an ordeal.

    My discussion of the epistemological limitations of my students addressed itself to Kristor’s argument about necessity. The subject arrives at his understanding of necessity by reasoning backwards from effects to causes. My students – who are representative of their cohort – either have difficulty in reasoning backward from effects to causes or they simply cannot do it. This suggests that, for them, the world consists in the last thing that happened, rather than in a temporal sequence reflecting a metaphysical pattern. This is presumably what they mean when they describe themselves, which many do, as being “progressive.”

  5. It strikes me that reality requires the mere existence of God to itself exist, but God per se does not require reality to exist. Creation as it is (both this world over hypothetical other words, and existing per se) is a facet of Gods love and not of his mere existence. The sufficient reason for creation is the love of God, the love itself being free but once accepted and chosen by God leading necessarily by Logos through this world and reality to the Kingdom of Heaven.

    I would assert that God existing per se, as a demiurge or some God other than the Christian God is not in fact a sufficient reason for the universe as it is to exist. Other revealed facets of Gods character, his Love, Justice, Grace, and Logos are required to provide sufficient reason to that.

    I do rather like the argument from intemporality, but my mind went a different direction with the arguments when I read them.

    • Yes: His creative act is not essential to God – which is to say, necessary – but free. And it is a motion of love toward his creatures.

      Nevertheless it comes along with his existence in a single package, not because it is implicit in his essence, but because he is simple – which is another way of saying that he is eternal.

      • Well said.

        It seems to be the mark of intemporality that the logic of necessary cause can flow either way. Because the world is as it is it follows that God must be who He is, and because God is who He is that the world must be as it is.

        It does raise an odd thought in my mind that the multi-verse idea that grows in metaphysics and science fiction is in fact ultimately an attempt at creating other gods or a functioning idea of alternative true gods. Clearly it’s not overtly so, as much of this deals with some kind of atheism, yet still the thought lingers.

      • Prairiepolyguy, I’ve edited your comment a bit for precision, in this sentence:

        Because the world is as it is it follows that God must be who He is, and because God is who He is that the world must be as it is.

        That’s true. But the logical bivalency of causation you notice is not peculiar to necessary causation. In respect to his creative act, God is not necessary. Nevertheless it is because of who he (non-necessarily) is in view of that act that the world is as it is, *so that* we can tell something about what God is like by inspecting his creation.

        As for the multiverse, I think you are right that atheists are sometimes attracted to it because it seems to offer them a way out of the requirement for a First Unmoved Mover. It does not. Nor is there any reason for a theist to worry about whether God creates many universes. I should be surprised if he had not. Why wouldn’t he? What could stop him?

      • Your edit certainly looks good, though I now don’t recall what I said that was imprecise. Regardless it does appear you have improved it.

        I quite agree that should multiple universes be found we’d have no problems or even surprise that they should exist. I am merely commenting on the motivation I see in seeking them among non-beleivers. It used to be that extra-terrestrials where sought as a sort of higher power answer to all replacement deity. This seems to be rather a refinement on that.

        But yes, it solves no actual problems for their world-views, it mearly creates an even bigger net of uncertainty in space and time for their god Fortuna to work.

  6. The objection I advanced doesn’t say that God isn’t free, it says that everything he does is necessary. This might be more than just saying he isn’t free, since not being free doesn’t entail that your actions are necessary (somebody ordering you around with the barrel of a gun makes you certainly less free but doesn’t make your action any less contingent), or it might be saying something else entirely, it depends on your notion of freedom. If freedom and necessity are incompatible under the definition of “free” that you’re using, then, sure, necessity implies not being free. But they could be compatible and my argument would still work because it wasn’t about god and freedom: what it showed instead was that given the PSR, everything is necessary so any argument from the PSR and the contingeny of some things can’t work.

    However you still discussed god and necessity so your counter-objection here is pertinent to what I said.

    You say:

    “Thus there are no A worlds that are not B worlds. There is in eternity no state of affairs in which God has not yet created, and might go one way with things or another. Nor therefore is there any possibility at all that God might have created differently than he did – or rather, does. This does not mean that God’s creation is necessary. It means that it happens the way it happens, and this fact rules out other ways it might have happened.”

    Now I don’t see how this can work: if something happens and it couldn’t have happened any other way, it means that the event in question necessarily happened. That’s just the definition of the word.

    Furthermore, you state:

    “It lies in the fact that he is nowise conditioned by anything at all”

    Again, I don’t see how this can be true. I’ll agree that God isn’t conditioned by anything outside of himself, but he certainly is conditioned (and limited) by his own nature. And this just what I need to show that the PSR means that everything follows necessarily from God’s nature, therefore everything is necessary, therefore there is nothing contingent from which to start an argument for the existence of God based on the PSR.

    • … if something happens and it couldn’t have happened any other way, it means that the event in question necessarily happened. That’s just the definition of the word.

      I’m not suggesting that God’s act metaphysically couldn’t have happened in any other way. I’m suggesting only that it does eternally happen, so that, this being the case, it cannot now possibly happen in any other way. It’s rather like my having gone to bed at 11:00 yesterday evening. I might have gone to bed at 11:30. But since I did go to bed at 11:00, there is no way I can arrange things so that I went to bed at any time other than 11:00. So also for God, except that he is only one act, and his one act is eternal. It is the way it is, and although it might possibly be other ways than it is, the only way this could be so is if it *actually were* one of those other ways.

      God is indeed certainly limited by his nature. He can’t be other than God. But if the character of his creative act is necessitated by his nature, then he is not potent, at all – he cannot truly do anything – nor a fortiori is he omnipotent – i.e., he is not God. The notion that God’s creative act is necessary seems then to be ruled out.

      • >It is the way it is, and although it might possibly be other ways than it is

        I’m not sure how that is possible when we’re talking about God.

        To show this, let’s take me this morning: I decided to have breakfast with cereals and milk. Certainly these aren’t the only things that I could have done, I could have chosen to do something else entirely. Why is that? Why is it that I don’t make necessarily one precise choice? I think I have choice on the matter for 3 main reasons: I don’t know myself (mind and body) perfectly, I don’t have perfect reasoning and I can act irrationaly on purpose.

        The first reason matters because if I don’t not know myself perfectly, I can’t begin to precisely analyze the present. I chose to eat those things because I was hungry and I liked the idea of eating those two things. But let’s say I knew pefectly well what my mental and physical situation was: maybe I would have realized that I needed some micronutrient or some specific amount of calories or that if I ate X instead of Y I would be much more pleasant to interact with during the morning. In which case, my range of choices would have clearly been restricted. Now, I still would have been able to make a choice because I’d still possess those two qualities that are represented by the second and third reason.

        The second reason matters because even if I know myself perfectly well, I can still be uncertain of what to do, since maybe it’s too complex to value what is best even given perfect premises. I may lack enough brainpower to come to a definite answer or maybe I may come to a definite answer which is mistaken. If I had both perfect reasoning and perfect knowledge of myself, I would still however be capable of choosing, simply because I can decide “to hell with it, I’ll do whatever I want”.

        Therefore the third reason matters too, since I can just disregard every knowledge or argument I can make and just, for example, stuff my face with pastries.

        Does god have those three qualities? He certainly doesn’t. Therefore it seems to me that the stament of yours I quoted in the beginning can’t be correct.

      • Well put, Cincinnatus. Obviously God cannot but do what is best, nor can he be wrong about what is best. But there is for him no such optimum, that might limit the scope of his act.

        Finite beings can do only so much; of the things that they can do, one is perhaps best – bearing in mind that, as Prairiepolyguy points out, there may be more than one thing that produces the maximum of value capable to them. Such is the outer limit on our action that we experience at each finite moment of choice in the career of life.

        Not so for God. He is infinitely powerful to create. This means first that there are an infinite number of worlds that he might create (and, perhaps, does). Notice that there is no upper bound to infinity; so that the notion of a best of all possible worlds turns out to be incoherent. Picking out the best of all possible worlds is like trying to specify the number at the end of the number line.

        This means in turn that there is no maximum to the beauties capable to God. The notion of “best” simply does not pertain to a being such as he, or to his act, or to the sorts of creatures his act might create. So in his creative act he is nowise constrained to only one “best” option. The only constraint upon his creative act imposed by his own nature is that, since infinite good is capable to him, his act in creation (of all the worlds that he creates) must be infinitely good.

        Reason tells us that God can create creatures capable of expressing infinite good. Creatures that could live sempiternally could grow forever more and more good and beautiful. It is somewhat shocking to reckon what this means: the Infinite can create an infinite number of potentially sempiternal creatures potentially capable of expressing – and enjoying – infinite beauty.

        Reason tells us further that, being perfect in every way, God cannot but create such beings – not because they correct some want in him, but as an expression of his infinite overflowing goodness and love – which is to say, of his mere being.

        Revelation tells us that he has created such beings; it tells us that we are among them.

        It’s a staggering thought.

      • Cincinnatus,

        Don’t those assertions more or less render choice and freedom of will an illusion? At very least they leave the only real choice between rational and irrational action.

        But supposing knowing yourself perfectly you like two things precisely equally? Or knowing your body perfectly you know that there are different things you can eat that will satisfy you properly? In such cases you have a real choice with no restraints of rationality or optimality.

        It would seem that infinity takes for granted that there should be more than one way to rationally do something even with perfect knowledge. Therefore I really only see God being contained by the third, that he cannot be irrational. He, being perfect and unrestrained by needs, has a potentially infinite range of real choice.

      • kristor and prariepolyguy

        You both touch on the infinity subject so I’ll address both of you together. And sorry for the delay but you don’t strike me as impatient people.

        I’ve always had a problem with properties that are infinite in quality rather than quantity. If we say god’s goodness is infinite, I can understand this if we mean that god is never going to “run out” of goodness (and how could he? God’s nature is unchanging and goodness is his nature). What I have a problem understanding is this goodness not having an upper bound; like, what does this really mean ? Even with different qualities, I still have an issue: for example, I can understand what an infinite amount of beauty means (let’s say an infinite amount of marvelous paintings and sculptures) but if I were to say that the beauty is qualitatively infinite, I wouldn’t even know where or how to start thinking about it. In other words, I can understand God as the highest good, like Augustine would say, but I don’t think we can understand it as the good with an infinite height.

        To be more specific, I’m not saying that something like qualitatively infinite beauty/goodness can’t exist (even though I have my doubts about it), I’m saying that if it does, I’m not sure we can arrive at this conclusion through reasoning, although It might be possible through revelation. But since I centered the discussion around reasoning without mentioning revelation, it seems my argument still stands.

        as for prariepolyguy’s bit about liking and needing two things precisely the same way

        well, you would do both. I might not be able to do both due to some type of restriction (so I would choose, randomly) but an omnipotent being would not be restricted in choosing one or the other, so he would still not really make a choice.

      • While God is certainly infinite qualitatively, I was talking about his quantitative infinity. It is easy to demonstrate that there are an infinite number of possible cosmogonies: to any one of them, a single moment in the life of a single particle might endlessly be added, at any point in that cosmogony, generating a different one. Under the definition of “God,” God could bring any (or all) of those cosmogonies to pass. So there is no world that can implement the maximum of creaturely value, because there is no such maximum. There is no best possible world, because there is always some world that might be better, if only by extending it a bit further along some dimension of goodness.

        There being no best possible world, God’s perfect goodness cannot compel him to create just that world. So is he free in creation.

      • Of course, take your time Cincinnatus. I’ll get a message whenever you get back and sometimes cannot myself reply for several days.

        So, again, does that not come back to choice at all being unreal in your estimation? Or, otherwise, that the only real choice is between rationality and irrationalism? Knowing what is best you must therefore always do it or be irrational?

        In those terms yes God needing to be rational would mean he has no real choice, but then the choice between rationality and irrationality is in some sense unreal in and of itself.

        But in to the Christian view it is a somewhat poetic assertion that the only real choice is between right and wilful wrong, and everything ill is just human weakness or lack of knowledge.

      • prariepolyguy

        Yes, under the view of choice I described, it wouldn’t be necessarily a good thing to be free to choose although it would be certainly better than the opposite, ceteris paribus. But I don’t think it makes freedom of choice an illusion: it is very concrete, it’s just created by a certain sets of limits of the being in question. In that it would be akin to, say, flight: in living beings flight is only possible if there are certain limitations with the regards to the anatomy and physiology of the being in question. Now, not being able to fly isn’t something negative in and of itself, it’s only negative if it’s in your nature to fly but you’re unable to. Same thing for freedom of choice.


        I’ve no doubt that it is possible to conceive that any world could be improved by adding, subtracting, or changing something, but I’m not sure that it’s actually possible. That is, it might be the case that given a world, there is no way to add/subtract/change something without the world ultimately decreasing in goodness and our ability to conceive the contrary is simply due to our mental limitations. And if this is true, then it’s possible that there is a best possible world, which would be the only one that God could have created, given god’s nature (this is quite similar in spirit to Wykstra’s CORNEA)

        However, let us concede that there is still no best world, for there might be different ways to constitute a world so that the same maximal level of goodness could be reached in more than one of them although in different ways. Then God would, by reason of his nature, create all these worlds, so my argument about his non-choice would still stand.

        I’ll conclude by saying I’m very much enjoying this conversation and I hope it’s the same for the both of you.

      • The reason there is no best world is that there is no maximal level of mundane goodness. However much value a given world might realize, another is possible that realizes more. E.g., each new moment in the history of a sempiternal world such as Heaven would realize additional new values, and there would forever be such new moments coming to pass.

        But never mind all that. You are suggesting that, whatever the complexion of the set of possible worlds, as perfectly good God would by his nature act to realize the potential goodness of all of them that were any good. It’s the venerable Principle of Plenitude.

        The question comes down to this: is it essential to God that he create? If so, then his perfect goodness would trigger the Principle of Plenitude and he would necessarily create all possible worlds that had even a jot of net goodness to them.

        But clearly it is not essential to God that he create, for the state of affairs in which he does not create is not incoherent. The Sufficient Reason for necessary truths is that their contradictions are either incoherent – they express a contradiction in terms – or contradict other necessary truths. They are necessarily true in virtue of the fact that their falsehood is necessarily impossible.

        The notion of Divine solitude is not incoherent, nor does it contradict any necessary truths. God’s goodness is perfect whether or not he creates. It is not therefore necessarily true that God creates.

        He does in fact create, of course – not necessarily, or contingently, but freely. And given that he does, the Principle of Plenitude may well hold up – I haven’t considered it much.

      • Yes, it is indeed a good conversation and I’ve gained a lot from both you and Kristor. It is appreciated.

        Insofar as you describe determinism as not being a negative I see how you can regard it consistent to the nature of God. It is a good and consistent way to conceive things.

        If I may go back the smaller thing of the reality of choice I suppose I could phrase better. Choices we must make due to limitations and uncertainty are not ones that can be reasonably held against us. When I say they are unreal I suppose I only mean that no one can be justifiably held culpable for things they cannot have known or for not superseding their own necessary limitations. Choices in this class do not reflect the will and essence of the person making the choice but only their limitations and nature. A person actively choosing irrationality or evil does reflect on who they are, as does a person consistent choosing what they see to be the most rational and optimal paths.

    • This is part of why parsing out the difference between necessary by nature and necessary by will is kind of important to me in this discussion. I agree with Kristor that if God must needs create by his mere existence he is not in fact potent and a mere demiurge.

      God having chosen characteristics such as justice and mercy and love is an act of his will, and only necessary in the ‘I went to bed at 11 yesterday’ sense. In the sense that every free choice becomes a necessary choice once consigned to the past or to eternity. Creation then of course must needs flow from those characteristics by the nature of his choice.

      God is conditioned and limited by his own will, as for whether he could have chosen otherwise we cannot by the nature of the limits of our minds conceive of how he could, but this particular thing I think reflects our limitations rather than his. Even asking the question delves into the nature of infinity we can’t properly tread. I expect that He is not any-wise actually limited by His nature, it is entirely His will that rules him, He is entirely the master of his own being.

      • I would quibble, Prairiepolyguy, respecting your statement that God’s justice, mercy and love are not essential to him, and with your statement that he is not at all limited by his nature, but only by his will (this being a Mohammedan dogma).

        In one sense it is quite true that God is not limited by his nature, because it is his nature that constitutes him as what he is, and confers upon him all the powers and freedoms that he has. Thus his nature is not so much a constraint as the opposite thereof – especially since it is in his nature to be perfect along all dimensions of perfection. Nevertheless he is constrained in that he cannot be ignorant or finite or bounded, etc., without ceasing to be God.

        Because he is perfect in every way that a being can be perfect, he is by nature perfectly good, just, merciful, and loving. Thus he cannot be other than perfectly loving and merciful and remain God. How these perfections are concretely implemented for a given world is however another matter, for it is a function of how he creates that world and what its creatures do.

      • I did not in fact know that was a Mohammedan dogma. It is a good quibble. My last sentence was bald speculation and I’m inclined to retract it. It seems going further with this would require getting into ‘can God create something he cannot destroy’ territory. I may assert that it is His wisdom that makes Him non-contradictory and thus not self-destructive, as His wisdom makes him Good, and therefore that too is an aspect of His will. Thus his wisdom being his will takes credit for avoiding such paradoxes. But that too is angels on the head of a pin and really has no meaningful implication to me whatsoever. Perhaps I’m going down a road I ought not in the first place, and if it is so I’d appreciate the input on it.

        That said He has been finite and bound in Christ, even as He is always infinite in His nature. I’ve always answered that ‘Can God be something he isn’t?’ with Jesus. He can be finite, bound, perhaps even be limited in knowledge and in some ways ignorant and still be God. Even if said limitations are consigned to a temporary part of an eternal being He has taken them on himself. So I’m unsure if I can concede that Gods nature stops him from being bound if He so chooses to be bound.

      • In effect, you ask two questions:

        1. What is the relation of the perfections in God? E.g., is it God’s wisdom that makes his will good?
        2. What about the Incarnation? I.e., how can God be a man and still be God?

        The answer to the first question, traditionally, is that all the perfections of God that we pick out with the language fitted to mundane life – as goodness, mercy, omnipotence, omniscience, justice, beauty, etc. – are in him one perfection, the perfection of God. And while that can sound mysterious at first – how exactly is truth the same as beauty? – really it turns out to be given in the definitions of these terms, each of which can be written in such a way as to invoke any of the others. E.g.:

        • The capacity to know being a power, omniscience can be construed as a department of omnipotence.
        • Justice and mercy can be defined in terms of each other (justice that takes into account individual spiritual predicaments with the perfect comprehension of omniscience is merciful).
        • All truth has a certain beauty; things are beautiful insofar as they are made according to the truth of what is good for things of their sort.

        It is not hard to translate any of the perfections into terms of the others in this way. Thus the very grammar even of the perfections we encounter (poorly implemented) in this world supports the notion that, metaphysically, they are at root all one. So God is not wise because he is good, or beautiful because he is true. On the contrary, in God there are no causal or rational relations between these perfections. As God is simple and singular, so is his perfection, in which all perfections are to be found.

        The answer to the second question is easy to state and difficult to understand. It appears that there is no contradiction between being infinite and being implemented in something finite and definite. Think of it this way: the infinite set of all numbers is implicit in each number. 5 is just 5; yet it is also a projection of infinity into quintuplicity. Infinity is enfolded in 5, but is not thereby bound to be no more than 5. Indeed, if infinity were to be bound to the limit of quintuplicity, there could be no quintuplicity in the first place.

        If the infinite can generate 5 without being at all limited thereto, then why might he not generate Jesus as well? If infinity can be implicit in 5, why can’t he be implicit in Jesus?

        It’s a rough analogy, to be sure. But the bottom line is that the unbounded cannot be bounded by the bounded; yet is he found throughout the bounded; this being part of what we mean by saying that God is necessary, eternal, ubiquitous.

  7. Yes, I know and quite agree with the first principle you laid out. Well written.

    I had not seen the relation of infinity and ‘5’ as a picture like that before though, and that will be quite useful to me in future discussions, thank you for that. That is a very useful gem of truth of Gods nature.


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